“Camelot” Offers Many Shining Moments

August 10, 2010

Peter Cook as King Arthur knights Lancelot, played by Rob Minshall, while Jennifer Perrault-Minshall, as Guenevere, looks on.

Catch the “one brief, shining moment that was known as Camelot” at the Cotuit Center for the Arts and see why this rendition of the legend of King Arthur is such a memorable—and popular—show (the first four shows were sold out). Directed by Karen Santos of Sandwich, “Camelot” has a strong cast, a wonderful two-level set, great songs, a clever script, and more than a touch of magic.

Peter Cook plays an endearing King Arthur, boyish and vulnerable, earnest and sincere, and dependent on the advice of his mentor, the magician Merlyn (Daniel Fontneau), who has taught him life’s lessons by turning him into a hawk or a rabbit. Merlyn teaches him to think, and, in the course of thinking, Arthur realizes the futility of war. He decides to do something useful with his knights and soldiers and establishes the Knights of the Round Table, whose purpose will be to do good, rather than continually engage in senseless slaughter. (“Might for right” to replace “might is right.”)

Guenevere (Jennifer Perrault-Minshall ), however, is entranced by the romantic appeal of sword-swinging knights and, in “The Simple Joys of Maidenhood,” longs to be rescued and fought over (“Shall two knights never tilt for me/ and let their blood be spilt for me?”).

Ms. Perrault-Minshall is exceptional in this role. Her beautiful singing voice is a highlight of the show, particularly in her sweet and innocent “The Simple Joys” and more worldly-wise “I Loved You Once in Silence.” Her face is always expressive, as her love grows for Arthur, and then for Lancelot.

Merlyn lives backward in time (“He does not age, he ‘youthens,’ ” explains Arthur) and knows the future, which he shares bits of with Arthur. Unfortunately for Arthur, Merlyn is beckoned away by the water nymph Nimue (Emily Jackson), who sings her ethereal siren song (“Follow Me”) to him from the balcony, drawing him up to her arms, and leaving Arthur on his own.

Lancelot (Rob Minshall) makes his appearance on that same balcony, delightfully comical, as he sings, “C’est Moi,” to announce his suitability as a knight at the Round Table: “And here I stand, with valor untold/Exeption’ly brave, amazingly bold.” Mr. Minshall is particularly good in bringing out the humor of the role.

Dom Gautrau is also very funny as the bumbling King Pellinore who has spent most of his life questing, though not finding, the beast he is after; now he appreciates having his own bed in the castle. Tom Myers, who will be a senior at Barnstable High School in the fall, is wonderfully despicable as Mordred, who engineers Arthur’s downfall in order to inherit the crown for himself. He enlists the aid of his aunt Morgan le Fey (Amy Kraskausas) in an amusing scene (“The Persuasion”) in which Mordred and Morgan are joined by a quartet of young dancers. Both are fine singers.

The chorus adds its voices to several numbers, notably, “The Lusty Month of May,” “The Jousts,” and the haunting “Guenevere.”

Lancelot’s jousts with three of the knights (“The Jousts”) is creatively animated. The two-level set is nicely constructed and its purplish tone set a royal and mythical mood. The walls on the lower level are moved about to create convincing indoor and outdoor scenes.

Marcia Wytrwal plays piano and serves as musical director. The three-person band supports the singers well, never overwhelming them. Michele Colley is the choreographer.

The set was designed by Richard Archer, and constructed by a crew of 19, which is not surprising, given its complexity.

“Camelot” is based on the book, “The Once and Future King,” by T.H. White. It opened on Broadway in 1960 and closed in 1963, approximately the same period of time that John F. Kennedy served as president. The idea of Camelot became inextricably connected to the Kennedy family.

The original Broadway cast included Richard Burton as Arthur, Julie Andrews as Guenevere, and Robert Goulet as Lancelot. The show was made into a film in 1967, with Richard Harris as Arthur, Vanessa Redgrave as Guenevere, and Franco Nero as Lancelot.

In recognition of the Kennedy family connection, the arts center is offering “American Camelot,” an exhibit of Kennedy-related photography and artwork, in conjunction with the musical. Pieces have been loaned by the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston, the Kennedy Museum in Hyannis, and various Cape Cod artists. The art show, which can be viewed during regular gallery hours, as well as before and after “Camelot” and at intermission, is a nostalgic and informative look at the “brief shining moment” when Kennedy glamour and culture prevailed.

“Camelot” continues on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 4 PM through August 22. Tickets are $22, $20 for members and seniors, and $10 for students. The Cotuit Center for the Arts is at 4404 Falmouth Road (Route 28). For reservations, call 508-428-0669, or visit http://www.artsonthecape.com.

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